Dear Dot: What’s the greenest Christmas Tree?

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Dear Dot,

I know the old fake Christmas trees are awful, made of petroleum products and the souls of children. But what about the new fakes, made of recycled plastic bottles? They’re good, right?

—Max, Vineyard Haven

Dear Max,

So many eco-quandaries are not binary, not a matter of good vs. bad but rather better vs. not-so-better. It’s shades of green, if you will. 

One could argue (not me, because I love the holidays, but, say, the Grinch) that any Christmas tree is unnecessary. And, sure. But there’s something to be said for tradition, which in this case incidentally has its roots in the pagan practice of decorating one’s home with live green branches as a reminder that this cold, bleak season will give way to rebirth. 

So. Trees. Live ones sequester carbon (yay) until they’re cut down (boo) but they’re often replaced by another one (yay) but, being smaller, sequester less carbon (boo). If you go live, purchase from a local vendor. Christmas trees are best thought of as seasonal crops: They are grown, then harvested, then replanted, then harvested. 

Most fake trees are indeed created from PVC (boo), though some are made of PE (slightly less boo), come from China which means fuel for transport (boo) and often unsafe working conditions (boo). However, they can last many years (yay). When it comes time to dispose of them, they are difficult to recycle (boo). 

You note the advent of “green” fakes, made from recycled plastic (yay). But producing anything, even of recycled materials, requires the use of fossil fuels (boo). So, while a tree that makes use of recycled materials is better than one that doesn’t, it’s still not a win.

Increasingly, eco-minded folks are turning to living trees – which, if tended carefully, can be your Tannenbaum for many many years. 

To sum up: If you already have a fake tree, continue to use it as long as you can. At the risk of sounding like I’m offering up some zen koan, the best eco-product is the one you don’t purchase because you’re using the one you’ve already got. 

If you absolutely can’t bear your fake tree a season longer, consider donating it or upcycling it into a wreath or garland or some other seasonal decor. Yay.

Treehuggingly,

Dot

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